To produce two “Wow!”-inspiring moments in a playoff series is pretty heady stuff. To do the same in one game is extraordinary.
But hockey fans are fast becoming used to the heroics of the Pittsburgh Penguins
’ Evgeni Malkin
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night, Malkin broke a 2-2 tie in the waning second of the five-goal first period and then scored a shorthanded goal early in the second on a booming slap shot to add an exclamation point to a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers
Malkin’s shorthanded breakaway at 4:50 of the second period drew most of the attention as he raced in on Flyers goalie Marty Biron, slammed on the brakes and then ripped a slapper past the defenseless goalie. It was a much different -- and decidedly more successful – approach than Malkin used in the last series against the Rangers when he slowed to a crawl on a breakaway against Henrik Lundqvist
and was stopped.
This time, Malkin ripped his shot at warp speed.
“It was really (a) last-second decision,” Malkin said. “All my penalty shots (weren’t) that great all the time, pretty much. So in the last second I just decided to shoot that puck as hard as I can. I didn't think about it, where to shoot, and to make any moves. Just as hard as I can.
“It's not really a penalty shot, when you think how you're going to make the move,” Malkin said. “Once again, I just had those two few seconds to think, and I decide to shoot as hard as I can.”
It certainly was an unusual tactic, one few around the Penguins would admit to ever seeing before.
“Hey, it worked,” Sidney Crosby said. “If I had the shot, I'd do the same thing, I think. With that amount of time and I think at the end of the shift like that, you know, he was pretty tired. Probably coming from the blue line in, having to come back and come back on that breakaway, so, whatever works.”
Malkin breaking free was a mistake. The Flyers paid close attention to him and Malkin absorbed some crunching hits during the game and figures to be at the top of the Flyers’ hit parade the rest of the way.
“I think we were really five-on-three in the zone there, and a bad break crossed it up,” Philadelphia’s Mike Richards said of the play that produced the breakaway. “For some reason he's at the far blue line just strolling back. So bad luck on our part and something that we have to be aware of. I think now that we know he's going to hang back there. But if he's going to do it, I think we ought to make him pay next time.
“We played physical, I think, all night,” Richards said. “We did a good job of getting in his face and slowing him down. Like I said before, the goals that they scored were just goals that we kind of gave them, and gave them opportunities. So, if we can correct some of the mistakes and play a little bit better, I think we have a shot at this.”
Penguins coach Michel Therrien doesn’t expect Malkin to be bothered by physical play in this series.
“You know what, he's fearless,” Therrien said. “He's one of our good players, you know. They play hard. They're not going to back down. Him, (Marian) Hossa, Crosby, you know those type of players, they play hard. When the game is getting physical, they're capable to upgrade their game as well.”
Malkin’s shorthander got most of the attention, but his goal at 19:53 of the first period was the game-winning goal, snapping a 2-2 tie with pin-point accuracy.
“The Malkin goal with six seconds left is another one that I'm not really happy about,” Flyers goalie Marty Biron said. “But you look at it now, they're up 3-2, and two mistakes I could have prevented it. And they got the momentum, and they start like just shutting things down. It was tough to get anything going after that.
“He's smart with the puck,” Biron said of Malkin. “You have to expect a little bit of everything with him. You know, my first training camp in the NHL, I was told in the NHL you always have to expect the unexpected with the tough players. … You’ve got to close him fast. First of all, you've got to try to limit the rushes with a guy like him. But when he gets them, you have to expect anything: Shots, passes, you've got to be able to cover any bases.”